Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Alice Waters, Grilled Bitter Greens, and a Dressing

Last Friday, I went to my local bookstore looking for Julie Powell's book, Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, and 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen, which I had heard about and forgotten until my friend Anouck recommended it to me last week. They didn't have it in stock, and I knew that Amazon had a great deal on the hardcover edition, so instead I came home with Alice Waters and Chez Panisse: The Romantic, Impractical, Often Eccentric, Ultimately Brilliant Making of a Food Revolution by Thomas McNamee. It was a good read, finished in a day's worth of stolen moments. I was struck by the purity of Waters' vision, her passion, and single-minded determination. I was impressed by her utter confidence in her intuition and palette. I was interested to learn that a good many of the people who have worked in the Chez Panisse kitchen have not been formally trained. I was surprised to discover how unprofitable Chez Panisse was for so long (and yet upon consideration, was not surprised, having chosen a similar path long ago that has rendered me quite uncompromising and frequently broke). And surely, I believe as she does, that large changes can be effected in a small way, by simple choices that we make in our daily lives. But the very best part was reading about how Alice Waters and the Chez Panisse family really geek out over the food, every aspect, from farm to table. In that spirit, I have started writing.

Thinking of all the great seasonal produce we are seeing in the market these high-summer days, I wanted to make a dressing with a little body, something creamy that could be used for dipping crudite or romaine hearts, or for drizzling on greens. And in the midst of this Jersey heat wave, I'm interested in simplicity. I had mostly everything in my refrigerator and pantry, augmented by a few clippings from the patio herbs. And I managed to make it with an immersion blender, so I didn't have as much clean-up after. This dressing should be quite a good base for experimentation -- different vinegars, herbs (I think tarragon would have been great, and very summery, but I didn't have any on hand), maybe some shallots? K and I dipped some radish slices in and started munching right off, but I think that this dressing might also be nice drizzled on one of my late summer favorites: grilled endive. I should say that I love grilled endive all on its own; the grilling makes it juicy and succulent, but leaves it's mild bitterness intact. So I'm not entirely convinced that the dressing would be an improvement to the endive, but it's a thought.

Recipe: Grilled Belgian Endive
4 heads Belgian endive
1 small clove garlic, finely minced
2 teaspoons - 1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar (a small splash)
2 teaspoons - 1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
sea salt
black pepper, freshly ground

Halve each endive lengthwise. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine the garlic, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Add a bit of salt and black pepper. Toss the endive halves in the mixture and use tongs (or hands) to turn and coat each piece with a bit of marinade. Grill for 1 to 2 minutes on each side.

Serves 4.

Recipe: Creamy Herb Dressing
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
sea salt
zest of 1 lemon
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
1 Tablespoon sweet white miso
1 Tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/4 cup raw cashews
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 - 2 Tablespoons minced fresh herbs (Note: I used dill, basil, and thyme, but any combination of herbs would be good. Tarragon in particular, I think.)
1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard (optional)
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Mince the garlic and place in a bowl (or blender jar) with a large pinch of sea salt. Add the remaining ingredients and blend til creamy. Taste and adjust salt/pepper as needed. If using as a dressing, thin with a bit of water for drizzle-ability.

As a dip, makes about 3/4 cup. As dressing, approximately 1 cup.


Anouck said...

Excellent! Glad to see you up and running. Another idea for radishes- veggie but not vegan, is to have radishes with goat cheese sprinkled with smoked salt.
One of my fave summer suppers (also non-vegan, but damn tasty) is the caprese salad using heirloom tomatoes, lettuce-leaf basil, fresh mozerlla, and a smidge of vanilla salt. The vanilla salt puts this sucker over-the-top. It picks up the creaminess of the cheese and the slight sweetness of the tomatoes.
Can't wait for your next recipe!

Ritu Harrison said...

Hey! I love a summer tomato salad... the good heirloom tomatoes are just making their way into the market here, so I've not yet had the pleasure this year. I've recently begun experimenting with some different types of salt, but have never had vanilla. I will give it a shot. And I do like goat cheese with nearly anything. Do you bake it first? Somehow, I envision baked goat cheese with radishes and smoked salt.

Anouck said...

I don't bake it, but that sounds really lovely, I think it is a great idea, though not if you are in the midst of a heat wave/ summer dog days. Try it and let me know! We are having a few hot days out here, 95+